Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Caught in the monsoon!

The brewing storm

"Jangan lalai!"

Those were Lan's last words of caution before we all jumped into the tiny boat in the drizzling rain, pushing off the shore for the mainland. He meant it for Long, the boat driver.

They've made the journey together countless times, from Perhentian Kecil Island to Kuala Besut jetty, a trip that, in good weather, usually took only about 30 minutes. But this time, with the winds threatening to blow again, and the rain picking up, we weren't even sure if we'd reach the mainland in one piece. The monsoon had claimed many lives before this.

One quick prayer, and with my trust in Long, we shot straight into the dreadful, brewing weather.

Our tiny boat

Lan and I sat in front, while Awi took the middle row. Long, navigating from the back, had earlier warned us not to panic and, no matter what, to be quiet, he would handle the boat.

I was thinking of my wife and kids the entire way, and what I was going to hold on to should we capsize! Lan, as though reading my mind, whispered, "If anything happens, just hold on to the boat."
Mid-way, we encountered huge waves that just kept hitting hard on the boat, non-stop. Then one particularly monster wave rolled up and almost overturned the boat! I could see Lan's face. We were all scared. Then Lan switched places with Awie; he took a piece of rope and tied it to a petrol container. I knew that he was preparing something for us to grab on to should the boat capsize.

The ride was rough but Long was a fine driver. His skill was once again tested as we approached the river mouth of Kuala Besut. The waves and current at the breakwater were extremely strong, pushing the boat backwards. There were two big fishing boats there as well, both struggling as much as we were.

We could actually see the jetty and knew that if we could just pass through this part of the water and enter the river mouth, we would be home free. But the choppy waters kept throwing our boat back and forth, left and right.We looked at each other's pale faces. I could only think of my family.

Long slowed down the boat engine, waiting for just the right moment to cut through the waves. He finally made a decision, revved up the engine and shot through the waters. I wasn't sure if we would make it, and just left it to fate. After several seconds or minutes, I don't know which, of struggling to ride the waves through the opening in the breakwater, we finally made it!

Safe on land
What a relief! Long immediately cut the engine and the boat just bobbed in the calmer waters. Muka Long yang hitam pun boleh nampak putih! Well, he's the driver with four lives in his hands...I guess he felt the pressure!

Once on land, I rushed to pee! I wanted to text Ena to tell her I was safe, but I couldn't find my phone. A few people came by, surprised to learn that we had made it from the island in this weather.

It was almost 1pm when we reached the mainland. I don't know how long we had been in the water, but it was the longest ever ride for me.

C-3PO: Sir, the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three-thousand-seven-hundred-twenty to one!
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds!

From The Empire Strikes Back
More pictures here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"All right, Chewie. Let's get outta here!"

"All right, Chewie. Let's get outta here!" Han Solo, Empire Strikes Back

Last night, after that fantastic ebek dinner, I sat down with Awie and Lan to discuss our plan for the next few days. I was hoping to experience the monsoon on the island but Lan said we shouldn't wait for it here. Because once the monsoon hits, we might not be able to get out of the island for at least two weeks, due to the continuous bad weather. And we couldn't stay that long because of limited supplies.

So the plan was to leave the island on Sunday morning. Well, that very night, it started to pour and the wind blew in great gusts, howling away, "here we come!" It was a frightening sound, one I can't imagine how to paint! The moon was bright so I could see the coconut trees swaying roughly from where I was sleeping.

This morning, when I woke up, the weather was very cold and it was still raining very heavily. The cloud formations were huge and dark. The entire sky seemed like it was crying. The winds were blowing intermittently. Huge waves were rolling in and I could see the contrast in colour between the greyish blue sky and the greens of the water at the shoreline.  It was impossible to imagine any kind of sea travel today!

But when Lan woke up, he took one look at the sky and said we would have to leave immediately when the rain stopped. Otherwise, we would be stuck here for two more weeks without food and clean water supply.

It was a grim moment for all of us as we quietly but hurriedly packed up our things and water-proofed them in plastic bags. Luckily, before we left the mainland on Wednesday, Lan had already advised us to pack light.

To be honest, I was very frightened to go out into the sea in this kind of weather. Furthermore, our boat was small, tiny compared to these monster waves, and worst of all, we didn't have any life jackets...

More pictures here.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Me with the barracuda and ebek
On the island. Perhentian Kecil, Terengganu. The weather's been inconsistent. Sometimes it is bright and sunny, and in an instant, a matter of seconds, minutes, the winds can blow in these huge, dark clouds overhead. The atmosphere, when it is dark and gloomy like this, is charged with an electric feel. Cold.

My mornings are spent with my camera and watercolours. There is total silence here. Hardly a soul is in sight. Lan's place, Keranji Resort is the only cluster of chalets on this beach, and we, the four of us, are its only tenants. 

Awie cleaning the fish
Around 4 pm today, we went out to sea to catch some fish for our dinner. I was hoping to get something like mandi abu or ebek. Lan was lucky to catch the ebek. It's a beautiful fish that looks like an angel fish. It's upper (dorsal) fin curves long towards its tail and has a kind of flower-like bud. I understand it's expensive too. I caught a barracuda, the locals call it ikan kacang. We also fished some kerisi, selar kuning, tamban and others. 

Back on the island, I cooked the fish -- made curry and fried some of them. Dinner was lovely, especially the ebek -- no wonder Mie Pak Lah always raved about it!  

Simple but delicious dinner

More pictures here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monsoon island

I woke up early this morning to prepare for our trip to Perhentian Kecil. Feels a little bit like playing Russian roulette. We might be hit by a bad storm in the middle of the journey, we might not.

Anyway, we packed some supplies – veggies, ikan masing, fishing hooks, fruits, water – and by were already in the boat. There’s the four of us – Lan and his assistant, Awie and me. There were feelings of apprehension, excitement, foreboding.
Shh! Artist at work
The journey was surprisingly smooth. Weather was calm, the waters were as still as glass. But you know what they say about the calm before the storm. Heh.

When we landed on the island, not a single tourist was in sight. Jetty was deserted. Lan’s place looks like it hand been abandoned for years instead of just weeks! The chalet I stayed at the last time has been smashed during the first monsoon. Seems like we landed on adventure island!

Halfway on the journey here, we stopped to fish. Oh, seronoknya, The last time I fished like this was like some 13 years ago! We caught kerapu and kerisi for dinner. Fresh fish is divine!

One of my watercolour pieces
So, I’m safe on the island. No monsoon, though. Some of the local folks are saying that the monsoon might arrive late like last year, in January or February. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve got fresh fish to fry!

More pictures here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

From Cherating to Besut

Dear Sayang,

We have left Cherating. We plan to drive non-stop to Besut and meet Lan there. While the weather’s still good, we might as well make the most of it and head for the islands. According to the locals, the first monsoon wave has passed but the second will be coming any time soon.

Breakfast this morning was in Kemaman – I was looking forward to my first nasi dagang on this trip. Unfortunately, it was a super sweet. I couldn’t finish it.

The river at Rantau Abang
We drove up to Kuala Dungun to check out the old ITM hostel where I used to stay. Well, it’s gone now. Only memories are left.

We made a stop at Rantau Abang for lunch. The lempeng kelapa was so nice. This was my “comfort food” when I was little. Eating this today made me remember my childhood days again.

Our next stop was at a place called Kelulut, for keropok lekor by the beach. Sayang, its so nice having tea and keropok by the beach, with the sea breeze blowing. We must come here with Musa and Maryam. I’m sure Musa will like it. I miss you all.
Kepok at Kelulut
The drive to Kuala Besut was bright and sunny all the way. Except in places near Kerteh and close to Besut where we experienced some rain but it did not pour.

The weather is unpredictable. The sky changes all of a sudden from sunny to dark but doesn’t really rain. We passed Penarik but didn’t stop this time because it was already late. By the time we reached Kuala Besut, it was almost .

Dinner tonight was nasi lemak with lauk ikan which you can’t get in KL. The gerai here makes four large periuk of it every day. Can you imagine how many bungkus they sell every day?

Tonight, we are sleeping at Keranji Resort’s office in Besut. 

More pictures here.

Chasing the Monsoon

Been talking to Ena about making a trip to the east coast during the monsoon season to paint and see how the grey and charged atmosphere of the rainy season there would translate on canvas. At first I had wanted to bring the entire family. Rent a kampung house near the sea, we'd sleep and cook there. Fish, paint, wander. And at the first sign of clear weather, make the sea journey to the Perhentians.

Our chalet at The Moon in Cherating
But practicalities took over -- as they always do -- and we decided that it was best that I make the trip on my own for work. So here I am, on the road again, chasing the monsoon.

My friend Lan Pulau who runs Keranji Resort at Perhentian Kecil Island had called to say that the weather is still good for island travel. The next few days might be the last chance to go to the island before the monsoon season descends proper. Immediately, I packed up my supplies to head for the island.

If before, I had made the trip with Suhaimi or Mie Pak Lah, this time, it is with Awie. He's been assisting me with running the studio for many months now, and in return, I teach him what I know. He's also one of Musa's "best friends"!
Need my coffee fix
From KL, we pushed off on 22 Nov, and made a stop at Kuantan for coffee (Good coffee is an indispensable companion), before moving on to Cherating. There, we put up the night at The Moon chalet (at RM30 a night, it was cheap). During my advertising days, I had always made The Moon my pit stop on my way to Kuala Terengganu for work. The owner at that time was some British chap who's philosophy in running a chalet was pretty simple...books, beer and conversations.

Now, though, the place is run by Indonesians. It looks almost abandoned, uncared for.

I couldn't wait to leave.

More pictures here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Drawings by Tengku Sabri

From L-R: My wife, Ena taking notes; curator Sau Bin, myself and Pokku
A couple of nights ago, The Art Room welcomed some visitors for an important meeting.

Tengku Sabri and Yap Sau Bin came over to discuss an upcoming project with The Art Room. My wife and I are planning to hold an exhibition for our dear friend, talented sculptor, voracious reader, our personal art critic, knowledge-person, and hard-core rocker (although this last description has only been revealed by the artist to very close friends, and even then, never before midnight!), Tengku Sabri, or as we sometimes call him, Pokku by virtue of his Terengganu heritage. We look forward to showing many of his drawings from what we are now calling the "Gunung Daik" series as well as other collections.

So there we were, a little before midnight, with about 20 to 30 pieces of Pokku's drawings from the Gunung Daik series assembled on the floor. We listened to Pokku speak passionately about these works that were done some twenty years ago. Works that told stories not only about this mythical land --Gunung Daik -- he created in his head, but also about the state of the real world he lived in at the time.

With any work of art, the viewer benefits from two levels of appreciation. The first, is the surface appreciation for the beauty or skill presented in the work. However, the experience is enhanced when the viewer is able to understand the work of the artist on a deeper level, i.e. what drove the artist to create the work, the so-called "story" behind it all.

One of the drawings to be exhibited for the Gunung Daik show
This collection of drawings, I think, promises to be a unique exhibition of Pokku's works that have never been publicly available before. While many know Pokku for his skills in producing fine sculptures and for his frank commentaries on art, I believe this series will show a darker, intense side of the artist that will be equally intriguing.
With Sau Bin as the curator of the show, we look forward to introducing viewers and art friends to this series of rare drawings and observations by Pokku. Details of the exhibition will be released at a later date.